Film Review: Masterminds (M15+) (USA, 2016) never hits its target sucessfully

When “based on a true story” flashes across the screen in the beginning moments of Masterminds, you can’t help but think that it’s trying to squeeze an easy laugh out of its audience. Somehow, whether you believe it or not, Jared Hess’s comedy adopts its premise from an actual robbery that took place in the late 1990’s where an unlikely employee of an armoured car cash handling service successfully pulled off a robbery to the tune of $17 million dollars. Given the story Hess and writers Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer and Emily Spivey had to work with, not to mention the hoard of comedic acting talent involved, you would think the final filmic adaption would be worthy of your time.

Sadly, Masterminds never hits its target successfully. There’s the occasional gag or one-liner that is executed with decent comedic precision but, overall, the film’s choice to opt for the lowest form of humour means that not even its reliable cast are able to rise to the challenge. Zach Galifianakis (admittedly committing to his woeful character with determination) stars as David Ghantt, the armoured car driver who was ultimately coerced into the driving seat of the robbery. Under the thumb of his bizarrely-tuned fiancée (Kate McKinnon, one of the film’s few bright spots) David is scrambling for any reason he can to escape, and his answer may lay with colleague Kelly (Kristen Wiig). Playing somewhat against type (at least in terms of her film work) as an equal part trashy and sexy unwilling femme fatale, Wiig is enjoying herself but the film gives her so little to do that it hardly seems worth her time. Herself under pressure from cohort Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson), Kelly utilises David’s affections for her and convinces him to rob the company, with the intent of ultimately fleecing David and leaving him as the fall guy should events turn sour.

Sour they do turn indeed. Believing he’s setting himself up in Mexico for a life of cashed-up bliss with Kelly by his side, David is blindsided when it’s his face on the ‘Most Wanted’ posters, leaving him now on the run and gradually penniless. As we are subjected to Galifianakis in various states of depression and depravity, and Wilson winning in the white trash Olympics as his character goes on a spending spree of redneck proportions, the film’s saving grace (save for McKinnon and Leslie Jones as a cynical FBI agent) arrives in the form of Jason Sudeikis as a cold-blooded but relatively dim-witted hitman who’s called in to take David out before he can turn Steve in. Sudeikis seems to fit the heightened reality Hess is attempting but his appearance is far too belated that he’s beyond helping the film overall.

It’s a real shame that Masterminds is as underwhelming as it is as there’s so many positive aspects combined. Given that the film has been shifted around the release schedule for over a year now it’s not entirely surprising that the final product is lacking in quality, but just how lacking is still something of a wonder. The story could lend itself to neat little understated black comedy that talent like the Coen Brothers could have a field day with, but Hess is clearly not up to the challenge of harnessing the wit and the intelligence a story so dumbfounding like this needs.

Review Score: TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Masterminds is in cinemas now.